Numbered ~ a novel ~ coming soon!

If you follow me on social media (and you should: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), you are already aware that my novel writing hiatus has ended and I’m working on my next book. I realized today that I haven’t actually written that here, which is just awful! So here you go: I’M WRITING ANOTHER BOOK!

I’m really excited about this one, too. Of course, I’m excited about every book I write, but this one just seems to be coming together so wonderfully. Even though I sometimes take a week or so off of writing (which is a terrible thing to do when you’re writing a novel), it all flows through me as soon as I sit behind the computer again.

Here’s a bit about the story (warning, some of these details could change):

Numbered

Numbered_Quote1The year is 2050, and technology has advanced so that people know the exact date of their death and how they’re going to die. In their final 100 days, people give up their jobs, their homes, and everything in their life, say goodbye to their families, and then enter a facility where everything is taken care of for them. They spend the last three months of their life in complete comfort with no worries at all.

Noelle Warren is a 32-year-old woman with 100 days left. She’s spent most of her life as a loner, unwilling to form attachments because of her short life span. She meets Ryder, who arrives on the same day, a 30-something man who is easy to look at…and that’s the only thing easy about him. He won’t talk or even acknowledge anyone’s presence, closing himself off even more than Noelle did in her old life. Being that everyone else on their facility floor is elderly and in different stages of dementia, Noelle’s convinced it’s going to be a long, lonely 100 days. But when Ryder finally does talk, his secret uncovers hidden truths in Noelle’s past – things she never wanted to believe, but now has no choice.

 

Numbered will publish in 2019. In the meantime, stay tuned for more updates!

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Dethroning the 6th grade queen of the playground

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There are two stories that stand out for me in my childhood memories.

In the first, I’m in 6th grade, standing off to the side while the new girl, surrounded by the most popular girls in my class, decided who was cool enough to hang out with her, and who wasn’t. We all played the game, though secretly I thought it was stupid. Who did she think she was? She’d only been there a week and had managed to leap to the top of our school’s social standings. So far, everyone had made the cut. It was no surprise that the prettier, more popular girls were waved on through. But when I saw some of the girls like me get the nod of approval, I stopped seeing this as a stupid game. Instead, I realized I better join in or I’d be left behind.

So, I stood in line, watching as each person faced the new girl and her two new best friends sitting on the bench of judgement. The rules were this: the applicant would ask the new girl if she could hang out with them. Then the new girl and her friends would tell that girl to wait a ways away so they could confer. They would whisper with each other, and then, when they’d decided, would call the girl back to let her know if she was worthy or not.

I reached the front of the line, and asked the obligatory question, “Can I hang out with you?” I’d just seen my two closest friends waved through, so my chances felt pretty good. But following their whispering session, the outcome was not what I expected…and everything I expected—I was not cool enough to be their friend. My friends swore their allegiance to me, telling me this girl was stupid and they weren’t going to hang out with her anymore, but the damage was done. Everyone but me, the slightly chubby girl in the handmade dress and pink Keds, was cool enough to hang out with the queen of the playground.

The second memory is years later, in high school. My social ranking stayed pretty much in the middle. I wasn’t on the bottom rung, but I had a pretty far climb to reach the top. I was hovering at average, completely self-conscious, wishing I could stand out but afraid to, just the same. My core group of friends seemed content as a band of misfits, the ones who smoked at the outskirts of campus, were on a first name basis with the school’s truancy officer, wore punk clothing, and were actively against the status quo. I was by no means a trend setter or activist, but I did like to belong. This group accepted anyone, especially those who didn’t fit the mold of the popular crowd. I was warmly welcomed. However, I stayed at the outskirts, always keeping an eye on the popular crowd—the pretty, the wealthy, the ones with cute bodies and tan legs outfitted in the latest fashions. I hid my pale skin and body shape under baggy jeans and flannel shirts, trying to disappear while still longing to be noticed. In the band of misfits, I could relax and just be me. Even still, I wished I could shine bright enough to join the happy, beautiful people that reigned in the center of the quad.

It was at a football game that I ran into an old childhood friend. As kids, we’d played together, the lines of social standings completely non-existent. But now, she was tall and beautiful, came from money, and held a solid place in the popular crowd—completely opposite of me. However, the lines between us evaporated once again, and we were friends in the moment. I was funny and brilliant, she laughed at everything I said, and then…she invited me to stay at her house that night. I suddenly had a taste of the other side, and it was glorious. We listened to music, watched a movie, slept in her princess room, and made fancy crepes for breakfast. That weekend, my whole identity changed from being the rejected 6th grade girl to a teenager that had friends in the popular crowd.

That Monday morning, I crossed the threshold that separated the misfits from the elite, and headed for my friend. She greeted me warmly, and I basked in the warmth of her shadow as I stood nearby, silent while everyone else seemed to have someone to talk with. Deep down, I knew I didn’t belong, but I pushed that feeling aside. I was here with all my new friends. And then, just as quickly, I was cast aside.

“What is she doing here?” one of the girls said, looking straight at me. The words were a magnet to the feelings of inadequacy I’d been trying to hide. Now they covered me, exposed me, left me naked and raw in front of everyone I looked up to. I had no words to defend myself. Neither did my friend, who gave me an apologetic shrug. The line was drawn. I didn’t belong. I slunk back to the misfits, and never tried to leave my caste again.

And yet here I am at 40, still playing the comparison game.

This morning, I marinated in these feelings of jealousy and personal lack. It was pretty intense. My favorite author re-released one of her series with beautiful new covers, and suddenly, all my books seemed plain and outdated, in desperate need of a makeover. Then, I began following a new friend on Instagram, and saw that all of his photos had at least 100 likes. Mine get about 25 on average. To cap it all off, I spent the weekend surrounded by a bunch of 19- and 20-year-olds in an astronomy class. Every single one of them was adorable. We all had a wonderful time. And yet, I couldn’t shake feeling like a waddling grandmother in comparison.

I started going over all the things I needed to do to up my game. I could take out a loan to pay a cover designer. I could be much more strategic about my Instagram, taking much better photos and committing to a specific filter, and maybe even coordinating which photos to take and when to post them so that I have some sort of scheme to my page. I could starve myself to get thin again, care more about polishing my appearance, be the cool, glamorous 40-year-old everyone wants to be instead of the plain, average girl I’ve been all my life.

The overwhelming feeling was that I’m not measuring up. My 6th grade fears came back to haunt me. Everyone is excelling and I’m the girl no one wants to play with. Everyone knows the rules, but I was reading in a corner when they were explained. Now I’m lost while everyone else is having a great time, effortlessly living their best life while I’m still trying to find my way.

Comparison is a bitch, and it will paralyze you in your tracks.

So, what’s the cure? First, it’s to get off social media. But then, it’s to be still. What is it you’re really feeling right now? Not the jealousy, but the feeling underneath? What are you stuffing? What are you avoiding?

What am I stuffing and avoiding?

I feel like the things I truly want are always going to be just out of reach. I know what I need to do—perfect my writing, pay for quality covers, get better at marketing myself and my books, stick to a healthy eating plan, get stricter with my spending habits—but I can’t seem to do it. I’m afraid to fully invest because I might give it my all and still fail, and then have nothing left. I’m sure that all the things I want—being attractive and in good shape, being successful as a writer, living a life free of money worries—they’re all for other people…better people. I want what other people have because I’m average, stuck on one plateau and unable to move to the next. There’s no ladder to climb in this caste system, and I have to scale the wall unaided while everyone watches, probably while they’re laughing. And if I make it, that one popular girl will be there, asking everyone “What’s she doing here?” There will be no one there to back me up, and I’ll retreat back down the wall to my comfortable plateau.

But…what if I change the narrative?

What if I looked that girl in the face and asked her the same question…because she probably asked herself that question every day. What am I doing here? What mistake will bar me from this place of privilege? What do I need to hide of my true self to remain here? What would everyone think if they knew my secrets, my true identity, my fears, my flaws?

Then, what if I asked myself the same things? What am I being inauthentic about in my effort to be loved? Accepted? Appear popular?

How’s that working out for me?

What actually IS working for me?

A friend message me yesterday about reading that North Bay Woman magazine article I was recently featured in, the one about going gray, and how it helped her come to the decision to finally take the silver plunge.

“See, you’re an inspiration, and didn’t even say anything,” she wrote.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me. I’m constantly in a battle between the real me and the one I believe everyone wants me to be. So far, I’ve never reached the latter. And all too often, I try to hide the former. But it’s the real me that wins every time I let her shine. I don’t know why that’s so hard to grasp.

I’m still going to strive for success, but I need to get clear on what that looks like. Maybe I’ve reached it and haven’t even noticed. Maybe all the doubts I have are blocking my view of the things I’m doing right.

Maybe I’m my own worst enemy—I’m the 6th grade queen of the playground or the high school caste enforcer, and no one is holding me back but ME.

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, finding the perfect filter to hide the flaws I want no one to see, only to hide the flaws that would inspire someone who desperately NEEDS to see them.

Maybe I’m full of flaws, but also some pretty damn awesome accomplishments.

Maybe I’m just me, and that’s not a bad thing.

CrissiLangwell_Jasper

P.S. The central theme of my book, Forever Thirteen, is based on bullying among middle school students. Find it here.

Just a place

I’m on my lunch break right now, taking a class where the teacher is really into breaks. “Shall we take a break?” he asks every 30 minutes, which sounds awesome, except I’d rather get out early than take frequent breaks. Our dinner break is an actual 1 hour and 40 minutes (it’s an 8-hour class), and so I left campus and am now parked across the street from the courthouse so I can eat my dinner and read in the shade until it’s time to return.

This is an interesting place to pause. There was a time when the courthouse gave me panic attacks. I spent months in and out of this building, working out details to a messy divorce that included custody, child support, and eventually a restraining order. I was lucky to be dating a law student after some time, as he set me up with a pro bono lawyer when things took a turn for the worse. It was likely the only reason he crossed my path, as we were incompatible as human beings. But in this, I owe much to that connection.

Still, the courthouse was a place filled with scary memories, one I stuffed way down deep. I hadn’t realized how much this place bothered me until a few weeks ago when faced with jury duty. I got the call-in option every day, and I almost forgot to check for Friday. Last minute, I realized I’d been summoned.

The drive there, my stomach did numerous turns. It never occurred to me why I was so nervous until I was almost there.

Oh. Oh yeah. That’s why your nervous.

The memories flooded back as I walked the steps to the courtyard, recalling moments of unrest and fear I wouldn’t be heard. Before I had a lawyer, I was ignored. Nothing I said mattered. The threats. The fear. The phone messages. The bruises. It all fell on deaf ears. But with a lawyer, I was no longer invisible. I didn’t even have to speak, which was good because I was too afraid to say much of anything. The case closed with two years distance granted between us, allowing me the time I needed to heal and give our kids a solid foundation.

I wasn’t alone as I waited to find out if I’d serve on jury duty. One of my coworkers was also called to be there, and we both waited around a few hours together. I kept a book handy, and took turns reading and sharing conversation, along with occasional glimpses at a woman quilting on the TV. The longer we waited, the more this menacing courtroom became just a room with chairs. Nothing to be scared of, unless boring PBS shows freak you out.

We were eventually dismissed for the day, told to return Monday. When that day arrived, the two of us waited in line for security to check us through. They confiscated my dangerous water bottle, and we were sent upstairs. I was just around the corner from the courtroom I sat in more than a decade earlier. But this time, my fears stayed away. We filed into a different courtroom to await our personal verdicts on whether we’d be part of the jury or not. The judge went through his speech, fifteen minutes to be exact, and then he dismissed us. All that for nothing, my coworker grumbled.

But it wasn’t nothing for me.

In those two partial days, I received a new memory of the courthouse. The bad taste I’d last experienced was washed down by two very ordinary days. It took away the scariness and made this place a building. It became so ordinary that on my hour and forty minute lunch, I’ve chosen to spend my time here, finding solace in the shade of a tree while facing this place. It’s just a place, just a building, and I happened to experience both scary and ordinary moments here.

And that is all. I just had to share.

The day I met Anne Lamott…and choked

annecrissi

Seven years ago, I waited in line to meet her, Annie Lamott, the author whose books I had devoured in a frantic kind of way, as if reading everything she’d written would somehow make me a better writer. I’d discovered her years before by accident when a friend told me that my confessional way of writing reminded them of her. I wanted to see what that meant, so I picked up her book, Traveling Mercies. Instantly, I was drawn into her world, at her coffee table, beside her and God and her son Sam as we compared imperfections, the wonderful sucky miraculous life of single motherhood, and how our own mothers drove us crazy and probably gave us our imperfections. I was hooked. I went on to read every other book she wrote, then followed her on social media where I gleefully witnessed her tell it like it was with no apology. I wished I could be that brave, to write out exactly what I was thinking without ever worrying about what my church thought, my coworkers thought, my mother thought. I lived vicariously through her, thinking that maybe I should have a stronger opinion on political figures and refer to God as a woman, just like she did. I wished my flattened hair was kinky enough to do something as bold as the dreads she wore, and wondered if I’d be as cool as she was when I reached my 60s.

I’d just finished hearing her tell a crowd of us “everything she knew about writing,” which only took an hour to tell. It was enough to further inspire my writing dreams. I had several unfinished novels collecting dust under my bed, and aspirations to one day be published. I wanted to ask how she gathered the courage to share unflattering stories about her family. It was one thing to share about one’s own mistakes and disparaging attributes, but to reveal the flaws of others was a thorny situation. Did they forgive her for outing them because she was the Anne Lamott? Did the pleasure of seeing their stories in print supersede their shameful shortcomings made public? Or did Annie simply step around their wagging fingers and high-pitched complaints, holding her head high on her way to writing a new bestselling, must-read novel?

“Are you nervous?” my husband asked, lacing his fingers through mine as I craned my neck toward the front of the line. I’d studied her outfit, the casual way she wore a scarf draped around her neck, the moon and star necklace I’d seen her wear on several different interviews, and how even her casual appearance seemed elegant in a way. In her writing and on stage, she’d mentioned her struggle with weight, but I saw no sign of it. Her pants were loose on her slim figure, her clothing like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog where men and women danced on beaches in colorful fashions as breezy as the wind.

“No,” I answered him, even though it was a lie. I was more aware of my stomach the closer we got, the words I wanted to say to her swimming around my head like a school of herring in an underwater tornado. My questions were starting to fade into statements, ones that told her how much she meant to me, how she inspired me, how her words made me want to be a better writer. Judging by the way the line kept inching forward, I only had a minute or two to convey my appreciation. Would it be enough? I grasped my copy of Traveling Mercies in my hand, trying to bend the curling cover so that it lay flat once again, and thinking of the other books I’d left behind. Was this really the one I wanted her to sign? It was the first book I’d read of hers, but there were others she’d written that touched me in different ways. Bird by Bird, in particular. Why hadn’t I brought that one?

One person stood between Anne Lamott and me, and my tongue was suddenly as dry as the Sahara Desert. Everything I thought I’d say to her disappeared. All my visions of her asking me out to coffee, maybe even her house, so we could discuss our shared profession of writing and my future success as an author…it all evaporated as the person in front of me ended their turn and she turned to me.

“Uh,” I started, which is always a good place to start when talking to your idol. “Uh hi.” What was wrong with me? I thought I should at least mention the book I was working on, the one that would make me famous. But then I realized she might not care, or worse, she’d ask me what it was about. “Um, my name is Crissi.”

“Nice to meet you, Crissi,” she said, her kind eyes meeting mine. This surprised me. She looked at me as if I were the only person there, giving me her full attention like I was someone important.

“Uh, nice to meet you,” I said. “I wanted to tell you, uh…” What did I want to tell her? How could I put it in words, how she’d voiced every single feelings I’d ever had, and mentioned things I’d felt shame over as if they were no big deal? How could I tell her that the love letter she wrote to her thighs, who she called “the aunties,” made me love my body a little bit better? Or that the way she wrote about her son made motherhood feel that much more special? Or how her honest way of talking about the pain of writing made me feel so much less alone?

“I wanted to tell you,” I began again. “I want you to know, uh, how much your writing has meant to me.” She smiled, seeming unrushed despite the line behind me. If I was wasting her time, she never made any show of it.

“She’s read almost all of your books,” Shawn offered, nodding at the book in my hands. Anne looked down and motioned at the book.

“Can I sign that for you?” she asked, and I handed it over. I knew I wouldn’t say anything else. I couldn’t. It was enough that I was there, standing next to Anne Lamott as she wrote my name next to hers inside the very first book of hers I’d read.

“Can I get a picture of you two?” Shawn asked, and I was so grateful he was there. Anne turned and we pressed our heads together as if we’d known each other for years. On my face was a smile, but in my head was a million cannons, firing off t-shirts into the crowd stating that my head was touching the famous dreadlocks of my favorite author, the knotted hair holding years of history I’d read about in her books—the loss of her very best friend Pammy to cancer, her difficult relationship with her mother and then losing her to Alzheimer’s, the day she let a black woman and her daughter make a religious experience out of dreadlocking her hair…the very hair that was touching mine.

“Thank you,” I breathed, and she gave me a gracious “you’re welcome” before turning to the next lucky person in line.

It wasn’t how I’d envisioned it, but it was enough. Plus, I still had her words written down in her books. And maybe, just maybe, if I ever got the chance to meet her again, I’d have better luck telling her how much she meant to me.

Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

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At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.

What it looks like to slow down

snailOne of my main goals with taking a temporary break from publishing is to slow down. But what does that mean? Right now, admittedly, my life already seems kind of slowed down, at least by my standards. I’m on the final two weeks of my Family Leave, and haven’t stepped foot in our bustling newsroom at the newspaper since the beginning of January. I get to stay home most of the day with my mother-in-law, and don’t really have a lot of deadlines outside of my school work or her physical therapy appointments, or just the normal stuff I do like cleaning and cooking. At surface level, my life has completely slowed down. And yet, I still feel that pressure of stress weighing on my shoulders, and it seems like there still aren’t enough hours in the day.

What does it mean to slow down? And if I’m not spending the majority of my day at work, why does it still feel like I have no time?

1. I’m trying to do all the things at the same time.

This could look like physically doing more than one thing at a time, but often it’s that I’m thinking of the next thing I need to do, or things I’d rather be doing, or all the things I still need to do, or what I should be doing while I’m doing something else. It’s me being in all places at once, which not only keeps me from being focused, but is also exhausting.

2. I’m letting distractions win.

As soon as I sit down to, say, do my homework, I’ll grab for my phone to check email, my Facebook, my Instagram, my Twitter…. If I can’t find the right thought, or I’m bored with the reading, or I don’t want to be doing this, or I’d rather take a nap, my phone is back in my hand and I’m obsessively clicking. I’m masking the discomfort with distractions, and a project that should take me 2 hours ends up taking me all day.

3. I’m tired.

I’m up every morning at 5 a.m., getting my mother-in-law bathed and dressed, making coffee and breakfast, cleaning her room, doing her laundry, spending countless hours in her presence, answering her questions, making all-day small talk…. I’m not running marathons, but I’m basically doing odd jobs and socializing all day long. As an introvert, this is painful, and yet I’m not doing anything to create space in my day for devoted rest time.

4. I’m filling my day with “busyness.”

There’s not a ton on my to-do list, but there’s enough. And when there isn’t, I’m finding other ways to stay busy, whether it be getting ahead on my studies or scrolling through social media.

So, about slowing down….

Taking an inventory of my day, I realized I’m ruled by a lot of time and energy wasters. So, here are some new ways to do things:

1. Do one thing at a time.

Mainly, this means being focused when I’m in the middle of something. Set a timer and power through until time’s up. Fight through the uncomfortable feelings of not wanting to do what I’m doing. Breathe. Stop thinking of all the things, but keep steering my attention to the one thing I’m doing at the time.

2. Block all distractions.

Keep my phone off! The timer will come in handy for this, too, by telling myself I can’t touch my phone, the internet, etc. until the time is up. Every time I reach for my phone, I’m adding more time to the thing I’m doing.

3. Rest, for real.

First off, I really need to go to bed earlier than I have been if I’m getting up at 5 every day. Also, an afternoon nap isn’t such a bad thing…and not the nap where I lay in bed scrolling social media, but the kind where I actually sleep for 30 minutes. But the biggest way for me to rest is to purposely seek out silence. I’m with my mother-in-law all day long, she loves to talk, plus she’s watching TV nonstop. I need to break up the noise with quiet time so I can hear myself think, hear God think, and just rest my brain for a little while.

4. Feed my soul.

I’m actually okay with using some winding down time for watching TV, perusing the internet, playing on my phone, etc. But if all my downtime is used for these things, I’m not really getting in any quality ME time. What refreshes my soul? I love reading, doing yoga, going to the gym, taking hikes, sitting in the sunshine, doing henna, writing for fun… But lately, I haven’t been doing any of these things. I’ve been so busy caring for my mother-in-law, and when I’m not, I’m filling my time with timewasters, believing I’m having downtime. But my soul isn’t being fed.

5. Schedule my day.

If I want to be productive and refreshed, I have to map out how I use my time. Without a schedule, I’m letting the day own me. But by giving myself time slots to get things done, I can actually do more in one day, plus I’ll have an inventory of how I’ve spent the day. I’ve just recently started doing this, and it’s working like a charm. Sometimes I don’t get everything done, and that’s okay. But it keeps me focused on how much time I have in one day, and how much time to spend on one thing. At the most, this has helped me to stop spending all day long on one piece of homework because I now have a deadline when I need to move to the next thing.

Beyond all this, I’m refraining from taking on extra, unnecessary projects (I had a moment of insanity when I mused about starting a podcast at the same time I was trying to lighten my load), I’m trying not to look too far ahead at the future, I’m reminding myself that what I’m doing now (being a learner and observer) is actually productive, and I’m practicing gentleness with myself.

How are some ways you make sure your life doesn’t feel too hectic? What are some things you do to refresh your soul?


If you aren’t sure how you could possibly fit creativity into your busy schedule, then check out my book Reclaim Your Creative Soul.

Truth telling: That pit of dread in my chest

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It depends on the day whether I’m fine or not. There are days when I’m so damn grateful for everything I have, everything I get to do, every single way I’ve been blessed in this overabundant life of mine. But then there are other days like today, when I feel like I’ll explode if someone asks me to do one more thing.

My school semester is over, and it was the hardest one I’ve experienced so far. The first semester of college, I couldn’t understand what the fuss was. It was easy, a piece of cake. The second semester was a little bit harder. For those of you following along, my English class kicked my butt in all the best ways, challenging me to dig deeper with my words. I ended that class with an A, but I fought for that A.

This semester, I was pushed way out of my comfort zone. I took no English classes, deciding to take a break because my last English class was so hard. Wow, did I regret that. I was stuck in classes I had no interest in, and the lessons were like being placed in an advanced French class with a 1st year Spanish understanding.

I shed many tears this semester.

After weeks of stress, tearing my hair out, questioning my existence, and dreaming of running away, I took my last final on Monday. I totally bombed it, but I was past the point of caring. My brain shut down and I had nothing left to give. Even the simple questions drew blanks from me. When I handed in the test, I knew more than half of it was wrong, and I hoped my teacher would count my effort as part of my credit, and that the rest of the semester’s work would outweigh the bombed test.

Here I am, two days later, and I’m still recovering. I drove home from work today with a huge knot in my chest as I regretted everything I felt stuck in—my job, my finances, several more years of school, and every other thing that forces me to work a 9-5 I dread while my dream job travels further and further away.

I have regular sessions with God about this whole dream of mine, and we’ve mapped out a plan together on how to make it happen. The simple answer right now is that I need to take a short break from writing books (my next book publishes Feb. 5. After that, who knows?) and focus on getting better at my craft through school and personal writing. With time, I will have learned things I can apply to my books, and it may help move my dream career along. But it’s going to take time.

Time. Patience. Keep getting up and doing the same thing day in and day out so that one day you can do the things you want to do. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. I wish it didn’t have to take so long. I feel like I’ve wasted so much time, and regret the things I should have been doing instead of taking shortcuts. I regret the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on publishing my books, and the hundreds I’ve made back. Each book sells less and less, costs me more and more, and I don’t have it in me to do the hustle. Because of that, I wonder if I even have it in me to be an author. If I can’t sell my books, what business do I have making this a business?

Thing is, I’ve lost my faith in my books…. There I go, admitting things I should never admit to potential readers. But there it is. I can’t suggest you read my books when I worry about how many things you will find wrong with them. This tiny admission is probably better in my personal journal than out in the open, but I find honesty is a more courageous thing to share.

At any rate, I feel guilty whenever I get stuck in this place. I prayed for this life, and I got it. I’m the one who decided to go back to school. I said yes to every single thing that now wants a piece of me. I wrote a damn book on organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft, and ever since, I’ve been so weighed down I can’t even breathe. Seems that every time I project an absolute, God laughs and proves me wrong.

I’ll be okay, I’m just having a moment. I’m sorry to be such a bummer! Tomorrow I’ll probably be back to counting my blessings, and the next day I’ll be back to lamenting my failures. It’s just the cycle I’m in.

Love letter to my sadistic, ego-stripping, hard as nails English professor

When I walked into my Critical Thinking class at the beginning of this semester, I automatically assumed it would be an easy A. I’d sailed through English 1A the semester before, and thought that this advanced English class would be along the same route. After all, I’ve written eight books (and counting), and I work at a newspaper. Writing, to me, is like breathing. I figured that all of this gave me an edge on the other students, and I did my best to keep my ego in check and open myself up to learn something new.

The professor came in, and she was seriously like a dream. She was this outspoken Jewish woman who was incredibly well-versed in all the literature classics, and she brought us food so we wouldn’t starve during her class. Plus, she was a total passionate liberal, and she had numerous news sources to back up everything she stated.

Here was this book loving, newspaper reading, incredibly wise woman leading our class. I felt like I’d met my soulmate. My love for her and this class only increased when I realized I would NOT be earning an easy A. I was about to be educated, and I couldn’t have been more excited about it.

I was so naïve.

The difficulty of this course increased with each class. She raised her expectations of us to a bar we couldn’t reach. She often mused about the disservice our previous teachers had given us in not teaching us certain things, assigning certain books, pushing us to our hardest levels. Thinking back to some of the lame books and essays I’d had to read during last semester, I agreed. Yet, it didn’t change the way she kept pushing.

Things came to a head when she split us into groups so we could present a certain topic to the class. I’ve never loved public speaking. In fact, this one area holds me back in my book career. If I could figure out a way to write and sell books without ever having to speak to a crowd, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I would have traded writing a dozen essays instead of conducting a five-minute presentation in front of the class—and that’s not an exaggeration.

My group and I had spent weeks poring over the reading so that we understood our topic. I was a bundle of nerves for a whole week before that dreaded class. However, my nerves subsided (as they usually do) once it was our turn to present. When it became my turn to speak, I knew the material well enough that I didn’t even need to look at my notes. I thought we were crushing it.

And then I looked at my professor’s face.

I faltered in that moment, forgetting everything I’d studied over the past few weeks as I took in her furrowed brow, the thin line of her lips, the air of disappointment that surrounded her. Quickly, I averted my gaze and finished what we’d rehearsed. At the end of the longest five minutes of my life, I took my seat with the knowledge that we’d failed.

In fact, we had. The whole class had. Following our presentations, the professor raked us over the coals for every way we’d failed to follow directions. Our group ended up with a B on that presentation, but the way she verbally whipped us, I was sure we’d all received an F.

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I actually thought this essay was perfect when I turned it in…

Little by little, this teacher deflated the ego I’d shown up to class with on that first day. The essays I wrote, revised, and re-wrote came back to me full of red marks for things I’d missed. Class discussions became more intense. And the workload and reading requirements increased substantially. I found myself counting down the days until this class could be over so that I could curl into a fetal position and lick my wounds for the three months of summer.

As that day came closer, however, I started to realize how much she’d taught me. Her style of teaching was akin to throwing us in the deep end and telling us to swim. However, it forced us to think for ourselves as we strived to reach that impossible bar. I’m still not sure I’ve reached it; however, it seems closer than it was before.

Tomorrow is my final class with this professor, and I have mixed feelings of relief and disappointment. I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a class that will push me this hard in my Major, or will teach me this much about writing and collecting information. Honestly, if she suggested I quit school in favor of learning everything she had to teach, I’d become her disciple in a heartbeat.

As I prepare for this last class, one decision is plaguing me. This professor has no idea I’m an author. Once I realized how much I still had to learn, I chose to keep my novels under wraps. I came there to learn, and I didn’t want her to think I thought I was too big for my britches. Plus, I was sure she’d mark up my book with red ink, pointing out every time I was too wordy, used passive voice, or committed some other literary faux pas.

Now that we’ve reached the end, I keep going back and forth on whether I should reveal that I’m an author and present her with one of my books. If I did, I’d give her Loving the Wind or The Road to Hope, the two books I’m most proud to have written. But every time I think of giving them to her, I can feel the apologies and explanations rising up: I still have a lot to learn…my next books will be better…I promise to work on my passive voice…don’t read them… I’m totally overthinking what should just be a gift. All I want to do is offer her the things I’m most proud of as a thank you for all she’s offered me.

I know I need to give her one (or more) of my books. I know I need to just get over my fear and do it. I let fear win far too often, and this is one chance to overcome that fear and move forward. However, jury is still out on whether those books ever leave my backpack during my final Critical Thinking class.

P.S. If I do give her a book, which one do you think I should give her?

Focusing on one thing at time

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This morning, I found myself in between the craziness of finals. I have no more homework left to do, I have enough time to study for my next final, and the essay I’m working on for English needs a day of rest. My morning was free and clear to spend on the other things I have been wanting to do. Naturally, I picked up my manuscript for Hope at the Crossroads, and resumed editing it. I haven’t been able to work on it for weeks, so this was a rare opportunity.

But guilt and distraction reared their ugly heads, and they started whispering in my ear. What about those short stories you promised to edit? You really should be taking the time out to study. You sit all day, why not go to the gym? I know, write a blog entry!

Okay, so I folded on that last one. However, I’m going to make this short. There are always going to be other things you *should* be doing, or *could* be doing. But you can’t do everything at the same time. Right now (after this blog entry), I am working on my manuscript. Just my manuscript. Tonight I will work on my short stories. Everything else will have its time, but it’s not right now. If I keep focusing on everything I *should* be doing, I’m doing a crappy job on the one thing in front of me.

Doing one thing at a time is faster than trying to do all the things at once.


Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

American Gods, and blogging as an author

Neil-Gaiman-2Right now, I’m reading the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it! This is the 3rd Gaiman book I’ve read—Neverwhere and Ocean at the End of the Lane being the others—and our family’s bookshelves hold a few more titles for me to dig into once I’m done with this one (and it’s a long book, so it will be a while). I’ve also watched Coraline or Stardust as movies before I realized they were Gaiman stories.

One of the things I love about Neil Gaiman is that he keeps a journal at his blog, and he’s pretty candid in it. There, he dismisses the fact that he’s some big named author, and he talks directly to his audience, and his audience talks back. There are no walls between his audience and him, which is pretty admirable for someone of his status.

americangodsBack when he wrote American Gods, he journaled the publishing process as he went through it. What makes this the most interesting is that he still hadn’t reached global acclaim as an author. He’d had a few literary successes, but none of it compared to the success he was about to see with American Gods. These blog entries still exist on his blog, showing an inside look at what was going through his mind in those early days.

This is what I love about this blog, and what I try to do here—kind of. I’m no Neil Gaiman (I’d love to be half the writer he is), but I’d like to think that this blog will one day be a record of what it was like before I was a successful bestselling author, and then continue to be a gateway between me and readers. Admittedly, I find it hard to write here when I’m in the middle of a book project, which is why there is a lot of space between entries. Gaiman mentioned in his own blog that he didn’t start publicly journaling about American Gods until he was into the publishing process because most of his entries would go back and forth between “This is the best thing I’ve ever written” to “This is pure and utter crap.”

And ain’t that the truth?

I keep a personal journal so that I don’t have to subject any of you to my schizophrenic way of thinking about my books. Right now, I’m in the editing phase of book 2 of The Road to Hope series, and I’m really struggling with it. My journal is filled with the same kind of sentiments in my book that Gaiman mentions—thinking it’s both brilliant and terrible, sometimes in the same journal entries.

But that’s the reality of being an author. These books are both brilliant and terrible. As Gaiman said (quoting the poet and author Randall Jarrel), “a novel can best be defined as a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.” There are hopes and dreams we have for these books before and during the writing process, and often we just can’t realize all of those hopes and dreams in the final product.

So I’ll keep chugging along with editing book 2, and then I’ll move on to book 3. And along the way I’ll continue reading brilliant authors like Neil Gaiman so that I’ll be inspired to always strive to be a better writer.

P.S. Do you want a sneak peek at the covers of the next to books in The Road to Hope series? Click here.